Mid-Week Advent 1

November 30, 2016

The Feast of St. Andrew

Luke 1:5-23

5In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

8Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

21Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

 

Reflection:

Be not Afraid, God has it covered…

The assigned topic for this Advent night is

“The Angel Speaks to Zechariah’s Fear”

And then Pastor Allwein went on:

“Share your personal reflections on fear.”

So then,

  • Zechariah’s fear as he is confronted by an angel, Gabriel – God’s messenger,
  • The way the angel speaks to his fear…
  • and finally how God speaks his “be not afraid to me,” and my fears,  one  fear in particular…

 

Actually, I considered just mumbling a lot… MMMMMMMmmmmmm….

And that may yet be what you hear…

Mmmmmmm…

 

This frightening moment occurs while Zechariah, a hardworking priest, is caring for one of my favorite liturgical elements, INCENSE…

(and not just some skimpy thurible of incense, like I might use, but an altar built just for incense…

and he’s not using a spoon, but a shovel to cover the coals with the frankincense and myrrh…)

The image that comes to mind is actually another angel story… it comes from Isaiah, who we will hear from 14 times between now and the end of Epiphany.

Isaiah finds himself in the throne room of Heaven… there are the “angel choirs” we hear about in our Proper Preface as we prepare to join them in what we call the Sanctus…

You know the story:

1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;

the whole earth is full of his glory.”

4At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

It was Zechariah’s job that day to fill the house with smoke… when the Gabriel appears through the haze…

This is not the angels of Hallmark fame, but the biblical version, more accurately represented by one of my favorite movies, DOGMA, or even the current series LUCIFER.

And these messengers appear whenever God wants to be perfectly clear, be certain we get the point… and they will appear three times before Luke’s Gospel is 2 chapters old…

to be certain we get it…

Zechariah, and soon Mary, and the shepherds…

Based on the evidence and their ever -present greeting, “Be not afraid.” We have to assume their appearance was at the very least startling…

Which brings us back to Gabriel’s speaking to Zechariah’s fear…

“Do not be afraid.”  There is little more we can say about the Gabriel speaking to Zechariah’s fear.

That’s all the angel said, and then Gabriel delivered his message and left… simple and to the point, and the history took a step forward.

And in case Zechariah did not get the point he had some quiet time to think about it. MMMmmmmm…

Be not afraid. God’s has “it” covered.

The “it” here, the pronoun, I would contend is the mother of all fears… the reason Zechariah was afraid as he stood there facing Gabriel in all that smoke.

I would suggest this “it” is the source of most of our fears, or at the very least it has been the source of much of mine –Death.

God has it covered. “Be not afraid.”

Now, the lists of fears represented here tonight will vary, but on my list one fear has robbed me of more life than any other and the irony of that being the fear of death doesn’t escape me.

My earliest memory of fear is the near death of my brother while I watched the panic on my mother’s and grandmother’s face… he nearly drowned as an old wives ritual of washing out a baby’s mouth was carried out during his bath time. The water went down his windpipe – my first remembered brush with fear had to do with death…

It is this fear that would later nearly strike me mute, or at the very least had me mumbling for a very long time.

And so, now we come to my personal reflection on fear and how God has spoken to it.

It begins in a college dorm room, a classmate found dead in his bed at age 21…

His death at that age for some reason triggered my own fear of death…

I was convinced that my death was imminent as well…  illogical, improbable, but the fear was real…

None of the cultural ways we deal with death helped… whatever I held as a Christian did not alleviate the fear…

I became obsessed with feeling my pulse and controlling my breathing, any chest pain was the first indication of a heart attack. I wasn’t going to make it… and I was afraid… no I was terrified…

What seems really silly today at age 70 was not so silly then, and it all boiled down to the fact that I was afraid to die.

I was a Religion and Philosophy major and more…

A graduate of Camp Nawakwa (With Terry Fox as a counselor, how could I go wrong?) and a future seminarian, and yet I had none of the answers.

In my looking for them, I discovered fear is actually useful, a primitive emotion that serves in our self-preservation, it triggers fight or flight…

And paradoxically in this case flight led me to consider if it is going to happen anyhow… well, let’s get on with it…

And so some insight into why someone might consider suicide, and I did, not for long but it came up… scary stuff…

The ensuing depression and all its spin-offs nearly cost me my life as a student.

I couldn’t eat- (I’ve obviously gotten over that);

I was unable to be alone;

I was afraid to fall sleep and needed to be with others until sleep came …

Graduation came and I was off to seminary, along with the gnawing suspicion that with this fear, I probably was not a good candidate for the ministry.

But then…

On the hill at that point we had the Eucharist weekly, which doesn’t seem unusual to many of you but to us…

Most of us were use to communion about 7 times a year, if that …

To put it bluntly you would not want to wear it out…

Weekly? Really…?

Hymns during distribution?

A mixture of reverence and joy?

Joy?

That on top of bowing and making the sign of the cross… I thought I was at the wrong school.

Okay I’m here, and I’m in the choir…

Weekly it is…

Without realizing it I was rubbing shoulders with Jesus in bread and wine, “this is my body, this is my blood…”

Maybe that should have been clear before, but there was a living presence in this meal the weaving together of Jesus and my soul and with it the admonition, “Be not afraid.”

This was and is the feast of victory for our God.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

And to pick up the Advent theme here, the light of this meal was scattering the darkness of my fear.

Here in that bread and wine, the resurrection became/ becomes real as at no other time…

Both professors Gritsch and Christianson suggested that when we faced the inevitable struggles of introducing weekly Communion, when a parishioner would argue that to do it weekly was to lose its meaning, we should ask them if they would say the same about kissing their spouse or telling their spouse they loved them. (and make certain the spouse was there when you ask.)

Like kissing your spouse or telling them you love them… this is the real deal.

This meal and Jesus in it, with it, through it, under and above it is as real as it gets…

Or as the wondrous prayer at the fraction  prays… “Reveal yourself to us O Lord, in the breaking of the bread as once you revealed yourself to your disciples.” recalling that moment in Emmaus – and he does.

The story of the resurrection and Jesus’ appearances are shared in so many ways… nearly every account different.

I think you will find there is only one fact though consistent in all the accounts – the tomb was empty.

It is the promise of our baptism… this meal is a foretaste of that moment when our grave will be as empty as Jesus’ tomb.

Whatever resurrection means, it means that whatever happened to Jesus in that tomb is going to happen to us… and until my tomb is as empty as his… well, until then I sleep in Christ,

and in keeping with Advent’s theme, I wait…wait for Jesus’ coming in all its fullness.

Now that’s an image of death I can live with.

It was there all along… I just was not paying attention.

Nearly weekly we confess…

“I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”

If Death has no power then its fear has no power and that’s not to be mumbled, but shouted as we come to this Advent night and remember that God came and took it all on, dirty diapers and all, to free us, free me from a fear that left me mute and mumbling.

I love the story of Luther’s first mass, his hands trembling to be that close to the presence of God… I don’t think I have lifted bread and wine over an altar without remembering it.

We sing with the angels in the throne room as we echo their words in the Sanctus… Holy , Holy, Holy God of power and might… and remember that all that power and might is being brought to bear on our fears… big or small.

God has this and comes in these angels and this Christ to be certain we get the point…

Be not afraid… God’s has it covered.

Amen.

~Rev. Richard Michael

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